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Study: Decriminalizing Marijuana Not Associated With Significant Long-Term Effects On Use Rates

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Study: Decriminalizing Marijuana Not Associated With Significant Long-Term Effects On Use Rates

Melbourne, Australia: Liberalizing the legal status of cannabis is not associated with significant long-term changes in the plant's use among the general population, according to data published in the Journal of Health Economics.

Researchers at the University of Melbourne in Australia and the Norwegian Institute for Alcohol and Drug Research in Norway assessed the impact of statewide decriminalization measures on Australian's overall use of cannabis use and their age of cannabis initiation. (Since the late 1980s, several Australian states - including South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory, and Western Australia - have enacted legislation replacing criminal penalties for minor marijuana offenses with fine-only sanctions.)

Authors reported that decriminalization was associated with a minor, short-term (within the first five-years) uptick in Australian's cannabis use, as well as a slight decrease in the age of marijuana initiation. However, investigators acknowledged that these changes appeared to be only temporary.

"After the policy has been in place for greater than five years however, we find no significant effect of decriminalization on initiation into cannabis use in either youth or the adult years," authors stated.

They concluded: "While we find no evidence of any long run effect, we do find that for the first five years following decriminalization, those who start using cannabis tend to do so at an earlier age than would otherwise have been the case. There is also a small net increase in the proportion of the population who ever use cannabis in the first five years after the introduction of decriminalization. ... [H]owever, ... our results suggest that the increase in cannabis uptake will not last beyond the first few years following its introduction."

For more information, please contact Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director, at: paul@norml.org. Full text of the study, "Does liberalizing cannabis laws increase cannabis use?", is available from the Journal of Health Economics.